For nine-year-old Priya Kumar, Diwali is about diyas, sweets and rangoli. Crackers and fireworks are noticeably absent from her list.
Every year around Diwali, schools in the city run awareness campaigns against crackers.
The awareness campaign is not just about noise and air pollution, it also focuses on the use of child labour for the production of crackers and wastage of money.
This change is not visible in just children from elite schools in the city. Students from government schools have also taken a pledge to forego crackers and stand by it.
“I think a real change in the attitude of children is being seen over time. There are children who just refuse to buy crackers and prohibit their families from buying them. The message has started to get across. Added to this are the exorbitantly priced firecrackers. Even parents think twice before they go to buy them,” said Shalini Sharma, who teaches in a government school in west Delhi.
According to teachers and parents, anti-cracker campaigns in schools have resulted in a massive change in children’s attitudes. Some NGOs put the decline in the sale of crackers at 25% because of these campaigns.
All schools in the city have an anti-cracker campaign, run either by an NGO or the school’s eco club. The focus has now shifted from crackers to rangolis and decoration.
“We have a rangoli making competition in school a few days before Diwali. I, for one, also go back home and replicate the best design at home. I think crackers are unpleasant. I have two pet dogs and they get scared whenever there is a loud noise. Diwali is the worst time for them. For me, the festival is about lights and delicious food more than anything else,” said Priya Singh, a student at a prominent central Delhi school who lives in Malviya Nagar.
In some schools, the anti-cracker oath is optional.
“In my school it is up to the student to decide whether they want to be part of the campaign or not. As a result, those who have taken the oath are the ones who don’t burn any crackers at home. It is completely voluntary but most of my friends take the oath. Crackers are uncool,” said a student of Sardar Patel Vidyalaya.